Nursing Homes Drugging the Elderly In Massachusetts

Johnson & Johnson is being sued for the tactics it uses to get psychiatric drugs, specifically Risperidal, into nursing homes in Massachusetts. This is what an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe has to say on the subject:

Talk about death panels. The US attorney in Boston recently filed suit against the world’s largest maker of health products, Johnson & Johnson, for using kickbacks to get more nursing home patients onto its drugs, including one that was later found to be so lethal to the elderly it had to carry a black-box warning. The government’s complaint leaves little doubt that the drug company acted in a predatory way to increase sales and market share for its products, especially Risperdal, an antipsychotic often used to keep Alzheimer’s and dementia patients under control.

The psychiatric drugs referred to in this article are not recommended for use on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. In fact, prescribing them is ‘off label’, or not approved for these purposes by the FDA. Use of nueroleptic drugs on elderly patients have been known to have many detrimental effects, and tend to cut short the lives of those elderly patients maintained on them.

The kickbacks referred to were given to Omnicare, the country’s largest pharmacy for nursing home care. This is to say, the drug company is paying the drug supplier to push it’s pharmaceutical product to area nursing homes.

The middleman between Johnson & Johnson and the nursing homes is Omnicare, the country’s largest pharmacy for nursing homes. Last November, it agreed, without “any finding of wrongdoing’’ or “any admission of liability,’’ to a $98 million settlement with the government for its role in helping Johnson & Johnson boost sales to nursing homes. The government says that between 1999 and 2004 Omnicare received tens of millions of dollars in the form of escalating rebates based on greater market share for Johnson & Johnson drugs and in payments ostensibly made by Johnson & Johnson for “data’’ from Omnicare, much of which Omnicare never provided. Other kickbacks, the government says, came in the form of “grants’’ and “educational funding.’’

Omnicare is not just a supplier of drugs. It also provides nursing homes with the consulting pharmacists who check over patients’ medications and make recommendations to the doctors who visit the nursing homes periodically and check through patient charts. In more than 80 percent of cases, according to a Johnson & Johnson document, doctors follow the pharmacists’ recommendations on prescriptions. In a memo, the company viewed Omnicare’s consulting pharmacists as an “extension of (Johnson & Johnson’s) sales force.’’

New Jersey, the article goes on to say, requires the independence of its consulting pharmacists, suggesting that Massachusetts should do the same, and going so far as to say Congress should mandate this independence of consulting pharmacists throughout the entire nation.

I would have to agree. Nursing homes are getting away with murder time and time again through the use of these harmful pharmaceuticals on the elderly. It is going to take awhile before the cries of alarm breaking out here and there across the nation rise to a level that can be heard on Capitol Hill. The longer it takes for these cries to reach the Capitol, the more lives will be expended through neglect, abuse, and turning a blind eye to the greed of corporate drug peddlers.